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Devore Discusses the Evolution Of Human Social Organization


"Males are basically a breeding experiment run by females," Irven Devore, professor of Anthropology, said last night as a part of his talk on the origin of human behavior.

In the sixth of a series of "research lectures for the non-specialist," Devore discussed the role of the male in various animal societies, nothing that males spend little, if any, time in caring for the young of the species.

Though their duties may include hunting and protection of a group of females, Devore said, the male's principal role is to provide the species with genetic change which is facilitated by sexual, rather than asexual, reproduction.

Males Are Safe

"Males are the safest, most consistent way to contribute variation to the system," he said.

Devore, speaking to an overflow crowd at Science Center C, devoted most of the lecture to a description of the latest field work cataloguing animal behavior, and its relevance to the understanding of the evolution of human society.

The evolution of human behavior is a subject open to "mythologizing speculation," he said.

The study of animal societies affords us the greatest chance of understanding human behavior, Devore said, crediting the "explosion of interest in the last two decades" with the discovery of new understanding which makes all earlier work in the field virtually obsolete.

We conduct animal behavior studies to obtain a "broad range of data in order to try and look at the human species objectively," Devore said. He added that our evolutionary continuity with other mammals, especially the great apes, is "quite striking."

"In fact, man and chimp exhibit more genetic similarity than horse and zebra or sheep and goat," Devore said.

Narrowing The Gap

The latest research has "narrowed the chasm separating humans from their evolutionary predecessors," Devore said, "Chimps, for example, exhibit behavior which is uncannily human. They practice learned cultural traditions, and show the beginnings of sharing and division of labor."

Devore said the only real difference separating man from other animals is his use of language, since most other human characteristics are paralleled in various animal societies. "Thus we can see that animal societies establish a baseline out of which human behavior evolved," he explained.

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